“I’m going on the Birthright trip to Israel,” I announced to my friends in my weekly class on the Torah portion.

“You are going to love it!” they all assured me.

“You will feel right at home,” they said.

It was nice bidding my class “bon voyage” as they supported me on my journey.

Smiles and tears filled the room. I missed everyone already.

As I walked out the door one of my classmates ran after me.

“Wait!” he said.

“Thanks, but I can’t take your money,” I said laughing, nervouslyHad I forgotten something? I turned around to face my friend and simultaneously made sure I had everything.

Purse. Check. Notebook. Check. Sweater. Check.

I looked up, but my classmate was staring at his hands. My eyes looked down too. He was holding a big, black, leather wallet.

His arm stretched out between us. A crisp dollar bill was folded in between his fingers.

“Thanks, but I can’t take your money,” I said laughing, nervously. What was this for?

He smiled all-knowingly. He had the wide grin of an old sage.

“It’s for tzedakah (charity). Give it to the cause of your choice when you are in Israel,” he said.

Before I could protest, he left and went back into the classroom. I stood outside staring at the dollar bill. I wondered why he wanted me to take his money. He could make a donation himself, right? I tried to rationalize what had just happened, but it just seemed strange. I decided to do it anyway. He trusted me with his dollar, and I might as well do as he wished.

When I went to Israel and donated the dollar, I had no idea why I was doing it. But I was happy to give the dollar to someone I felt might need it, and I had great pleasure helping out my friend back home—even though I felt his request was rather odd.

As time went on, I noticed that other people would receive dollars when they announced they were going on a trip somewhere. I wondered about this strange tradition, and so I asked about it.

I found out that it was actually a Jewish custom passed down by our sages. They say to give a coin to the traveler. The reason is for protection. How would my friend’s dollar protect me on my trip? According to the sages, there is extra protection given to someone who is en route to perform a mitzvah. Since I had a mission to give charity on behalf of my friend, I was not only protected, but I was doing a mitzvah.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe also handed out dollar bills to people who came to see him. When asked why, he would tell them that when two Jews come together, it should bring something good for a third Jew. The dollar was for charity.

That dollar my friend gave me was so powerful. On the other end of the world, I was doing a mitzvah that he put into action. His mitzvah was mine as well. That single dollar made a difference, however big or small, in the life of a third person.

However, the buck did not stop there. Once I learned the meaning of my friend’s dollar, I instituted it as my own custom when I heard my friends were going on their travels. It was even better then just wishing them “a safe trip.” It wasn’t just words anymore. It was an action. It was like I was investing in their safety. It made my words more meaningful.

With my newfound tradition, I felt happy giving my friends a chance to do something good in the world. We were on a mission together. We were teammates.

On the last day of her vacation to California, I gave my friend the dollar. She folded it lengthwise and then folded the corners in, until all you could see was the “one” on the back of the bill. This is how she remembered that this bill was designated for charity. The “one” represented G‑d. The American dollar explained the custom well: “In G‑d we trust.”

It wasn’t just words anymore. It was an actionI loved her idea. It is a fundamental belief in Judaism that there is only one G‑d. According to the Torah, the word for charity, tzedakah, is often misinterpreted. Its real meaning is “justice.” A word with a similar root to tzedakahis tzaddik. A tzaddik means a righteous person. It is the ultimate compliment for a person to be called this, and it is what every Jew should strive to be. A tzaddik is a person who is one with G‑d because he does what is right. He makes others believe that there is good in the world and inspires them to want to be better. By using the money G‑d gave us to make the world a better place, we are investing in His world. We are doing what is just.

Giving a dollar to my friends for their journeys symbolized to me the way G‑d must feel. Humans are on the journey of life. G‑d provides us with an income and asks us to give a portion of it to charity. He does not tell us where to give, but gives us the freedom to choose. He only asks us to spend it on our “travels” in order to help others. The inequalities we see are there so we can help fix them. With a smile and an opened heart, we become ambassadors for the Almighty on earth. We are His partners.

Our oneness with our Creator reminds us of our oneness with each other. It is an obligation to help others. It isn’t a choice we have. Ten percent of our earnings must go to aid other people. That money is not our own, but is set aside for us to make a difference in the world. That is our mission; it is what G‑d wants us to do. He literally put the power to change the world in our hands with the literal change he gives us. It is our way of being like Him, which is what He wants from us. In our mitzvah, my friend and I were “one” with both each other and G‑d. We were working together for a single purpose bigger than each of us.

The Rebbe was right. When two people come together, it will, and should, affect a third person. Tzedakah is a tangible example of this, but it is by far not the only example. When two people meet, they have the potential to change the world with both tangible actions and intangible words.

Whether we know it or not, we all influence the people around us. Are we setting positive examples? We must realize how deeply we are connected. Do our words and deeds bring about positive or negative consequences? We need each other. Are we partnering together to build a better world?

Who ever thought that “passing the buck” could have a good connotation? The dollar my friend gave me may have just been a small token, but really, it was the gift that kept on giving. Through his example I learned something new and established a tradition. What’s more, I have taught my friends about it too. They, in turn, have adopted it as their own. Giving others the opportunity to give is the ultimate act of paying it forward. Who knows, maybe my friend’s dollar will be the one that changes the world.